Conversation Can Aid Recovery In Aphasia Patients

Megan Ray  |  June 19, 2014

Despite being one of the most common neurological disorders in the U.S., aphasia is often difficult to understand. The condition can make it hard for patients to express themselves and interpret others, putting a significant barrier between their experience and their ability to communicate it. Take some time to learn about the disorder during National Aphasia Month this June.

Aphasia basics
According to the American Psychological Association, more than 100,000 people in the U.S. are affected by aphasia every year. The disorder is caused by damage to the brain regions associated with language processing. Aphasia most often follows a stroke or traumatic head injury. As many as 40 percent of people who have suffered a stroke develop the condition. People at any age can have aphasia, but it becomes much more common in older adults, making it a key issue in elder care.

Aphasia is often thought of as a disease, but it is actually a symptom of brain damage, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Due to that, there is no single cure or treatment for the condition. However, there are therapies available that can restore ability to those affected. Some even recover without any medical intervention, but it is best to begin work with a speech pathologist as soon as possible to increase the chance of regaining most function.

Talking to loved ones with aphasia
It is nearly impossible to predict the course that aphasia will take.  The extent of damage and what region it affects can alter outcomes, as can the condition of the patient before developing the aphasia. Because the severity and duration of the issue are so variable, families should do their best to adapt to their loved one's state as it changes. The American Stroke Association offered some tips on helping your loved ones.

Communicating with someone in the most severe stages of aphasia can take a lot of time and impatience, but it is an important part of the recovery process. Keep in mind that people with aphasia may be able to comprehend what they hear but not respond quickly. Rephrasing your statements may trigger helpful words or associations, but simply repeating yourself may not make conversation easier. Be sure not to speak down to people with aphasia, as this is more likely to be seen as condescending than helpful. One concession to simpler speech that may help is asking yes-or-no questions instead of those that will require lengthy responses.

Treat your conversations as if they are leading to recovery, because they may well be. Socializing with loved ones and retirement community residents is a key step for people with aphasia to relearn how to express themselves.